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Meet the pilots behind the Cold Lake Air Show

COLD LAKE – During the third weekend of July, 27,000 people arrived at 4 Wing to take in the 2022 Cold Lake Air Show. 

The attendance for the arial event drew in nearly double the population of Cold Lake and an estimated $1.4 million injection into the local economy, according to Maj. Kael Rennie, the Air Show’s committee chair. 

In 2018, the Cold Lake Air Show had just under 23,000 attendees over the two-day event.  

Rennie has a few ideas as to why the northern Alberta airbase saw a rise in attendance this year.  

“We've been thinking about why our ticket sales are stronger than before, and I think it's a combination of a bunch of things. It's the four-year gap in an air show. It's the two years of COVID and It's the Top Gun Maverick,” he said, with a chuckle. 

Cold Lake Air Show organizers had hired a Tom Cruise impersonator to create video promotions for the event and booked him as a special act for the air show. 

“Unfortunately, he got rejected at the border for COVID. So, it was super disappointing because he is just fantastic,” said Rennie. 

The Major noted that following the release of the new Top Gun Maverick movie earlier this year, the Portland Air Show saw a massive spike in attendance and reported that the Tom Cruise impersonator, who had been intended to arrive at the Cold Lake Air Show, was the number one attraction coming in ahead of all the fighter planes. 

One thing is certain though, the release of Top Gun Maverick and events like the Cold Lake Air Show are great recruiting tools for the Canadian Airforce, says Rennie. 

“If you ask a lot of Air Force folks how they got involved in the Air Force or aviation, they’ll say either because they went to an air show or they were in Air Cadets and that led them into a career.” 

The Royal Canadian Air Force and military are doing a recruiting drive to help offset the low enrollment being experienced by the Canadian Forces. 

“It's a chance for us at 4Wing to demonstrate to the Canadian public what it is we do and to open our doors and showcase the aircraft (and) the personnel... It’s also huge thing for the city and for the Lakeland as well,” added Rennie. 

Flying fighter jets, not quite like the movies 

“The movie Top Gun 2 was an amazing film, but it was a movie not documentary,” said fighter jet pilot Capt. Matthew Kutryk. 

It wasn’t so much what was left out of the recent Top Gun movie that made it less true to real world piloting than all the extras folded into the fighter pilots' experiences. 

"A lot of the broader storyline stuff was great for Hollywood and that’s what makes it a great movie,” Kutryk said, noting that the portrayal of the pilots in the cockpit is actually not too far from reality. 

“The flying sequences were predominantly flown in F-18 aircraft with the actors and with fancy cameras in the backseats. So, when they're going down in the canyons, you see the actor just melting into the seats with the G forces pulling the skin down – that's realistic, that's actually happening.” 

He says the actors being filmed are experiencing the same profiles of dynamics and G-force that Canadian pilots feel when they are flying the CF-18 in Cold Lake. 

And while the Cold Lake Air Show did not feature any Super Hornets that were depicted in the Top Gun movie, there were Canadian Legacy Hornets taking to the sky and sitting on the runways for attendees to view, noted Kutryk. 

It’s a bird, it’s a plane... it’s a Canadian SkyHawk 

Free falling through the air at 6,000 plus feet is not something that can be easily described, said Master Cpl. Marc Dumaine, who is one of 15 SkyHawks members, a team rigger and Canadian military trained parachutist. 

As a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, Dumaine completed his first Free Fall course in 2014. 

“When I was doing my course, they were mentioning the SkyHawks and I did a bit of research and then from there was my goal to become a SkyHawk.” 

At the time, Dumaine was in artillery but made the decision to switch trades to Air Drop Technician, which he says is just a fancy word for parachutist. 

What propelled his move to switch military trades was his keen interest in parachuting. 

“As soon as I got qualified, I just fell in love with it and switching over just made sense to me. In our Armed Forces, we have quite a bit of different systems. So, to learn all about the different (parachute) systems and how to maintain them, it was just something I wanted to do.” 

Dumaine has been with the Canadian Armed Forces for nearly 17 years but made the switch to be an Air Drop Technician in 2016.  

He was meant to join the SkyHawks in 2020, but due to the pandemic this is the first season that Dumaine is performing with the SkyHawks. And it won’t be his last if he has anything to say about it. 

Freefall jumping never gets old he says, “It's always fun. The first time, you are really nervous because of the fear of the unknown but once you jump you love it, and you can't wait to get out and do it again.” 

He adds, “It surreal. It's something that I don't think you can describe. It's just something that you have to experience and it's something you will never forget. So, I highly encourage everyone to try it once.” 

Established in 1971, the SkyHawks have represented Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces with performances seen by well over 75 million spectators world-wide under their iconic Canadian Flag parachutes. 

The SkyHawks’ carry out daring maneuvers while bringing their parachutes in close proximity to each other. The freefalling ariel acts requires a high level of skill, teamwork, and physical fitness.  

This discipline of proximity parachute flying is known as Canopy Relative Work within the skydiving community. For the SkyHawks’ show routines, they begin their freefall at 6,000 feet. 

Once a military member has completed 50 free fall jumps, a Skydiving A Licence or a military freefall qualification, they can apply to join the SkyHawks team, explains Dumaine. 

Members are then selected for the team and travel to California to complete their group training.  

All funds generated from the Cold Lake Airshow goes towards the Base Fund, which is used to enhance the morale and welfare of the military members and their families.

Jazmin Tremblay

About the Author: Jazmin Tremblay

Jazmin completed a minor in journalism at Hanze University in the Netherlands and completed her Communication Studies degree from MacEwan University with a major in journalism.
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